‘Will he, or won’t he?’ has been the question all tennis fans have been asking for months now.
When the organisers of the Australian Open revealed that players would need to be vaccinated to participate in the 2022 renewal of the tournament, it was not good news for Novak Djokovic — who has, somewhat controversially, not hidden his feelings surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and the introduction of vaccines.
However, for the professionals hoping to benefit from the Serbian’s absence Down Under, there has been a twist in the tale as the 34-year-old recently revealed that he has been granted an exception from the Covid-19 vaccination rules by the expert independent panel put in place by the tournament’s organisers.
“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading down under with an exemption permission,” Djokovic told his 9.6 million followers on Instagram. “Let’s go 2022. I am ready to live and breathe tennis in the next few weeks of competition.”
Djokovic, who is the unsurprising favourite to win the Australian Open with Betdaq, being granted a medical exemption allowing him to travel to Australia and participate in the Melbourne-based tournament, which was upheld in a court battle upon his arrival in the country, has not gone down well with many tennis players and fans, and it’s sure to be the topic of most of his upcoming press conferences and interviews — which could cast a dark cloud over the tournament and take the onus away from the actual tennis itself.
But some would argue that the Australian Open will only benefit from having the current World No.1 in attendance — albeit perhaps guaranteeing that we won’t see a new victor of the tournament at Melbourne Park come the end of the month.
With Nole having won the Australian Open nine times in his career, including in each of the last three years, it is fair to say that it has been a happy hunting ground for him Down Under. In fact, it is probably his favourite Grand Slam of the year as only Wimbledon comes close in terms of overall wins (six), with the French Open (two) and the US Open (three) miles behind.
A 91% strike rate, with 82 wins and just eight defeats at Melbourne Park, really is an admirable feat. It shows just how good Djokovic is on the Australian hard courts and given that his last defeat in the tournament came via an upset from Chung Hyeon in the fourth round way back in 2018, as the South Korean stunned the Serb 7-6(7-4), 7-5, 7-67-3, it seems incredibly unlikely that anyone is going to be able to stop him again this year.
Being denied entry initially and the barrage of comments Djokovic is facing from social media and the press at the minute is unlikely to faze the 33-year-old either. After all, he must be used to it by this stage of his career — especially after his actions of the last couple of years, like hosting a tournament in Serbia and Croatia during the peak of the pandemic and his comments about quarantine rules at other competitions.
Throwing Djokovic back into the mix certainly doesn’t do everyone else any favours, but the likes of Rafael Nadal, who has only won the tournament once in his lengthy career, Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas definitely won’t go down without a fight!